It helps to start with the correct terminology, as defined by medical professionals and transgender people themselves.
Not everyone agrees on all terms related to these issues – and the use of these and other terms continues to evolve.
But here is a basic primer on some of the language and etiquette to keep in mind.
Sex: Sex is a designation assigned at birth – usually male, female or intersex. The definition encompasses differences in chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics.
Gender: The characteristics a society or culture considers masculine or feminine.
Gender Identity: A personal sense of being male, female, or neither. Gender identity is internal and not always visible to others.
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression differs from what is typically associated with the gender they are assigned at birth. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender,” which is an adjective. “Transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” is considered derogatory.
Transgender Man: A term for a transgender person who identifies as a man.
Transgender Woman: A term for a transgender person who identifies as a woman.
Transition: A period wherein someone takes steps to live as the gender with which they identify rather than the gender they were assigned at birth. This can – but does not have to – include the changes to names, grooming and dress. It may also – but does not always – include hormone therapy or surgery.
Sex Reassignment Surgery: Surgical procedures that change a person’s body to better reflect their gender identity. This can include “top surgery” (breast augmentation or reconstruction) or “bottom surgery” (altering genitals) and a variety of cosmetic surgeries. These surgeries are medically necessary for some and not others. Some prefer the term “gender affirmation surgery.” “Sex change” is considered derogatory by many transgender people.
Gender Binary: The idea that gender is an “either/or” proposition – that someone is either male or female. Some people identify as entirely male or female, whatever gender they were assigned at birth. Others identify more strongly with one gender or another but believe themselves to be on a spectrum of gender identity. Still others think gender is a social construct and reject the idea of gender as a binary proposition altogether.
Non-Binary, Gender Non-Conforming or Genderqueer: Someone who does not identify as male or female but instead considers themselves to be on a spectrum of gender identity that includes both or neither.
Cisgender: A person who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Sources: National Center for Transgender Equality,The American Psychological Association, Tree of Life Counseling